That’s me when I was a kid.
Around the time this pic was taken, my Mummy tried to have a birthday party for me and my schoolfriends. Bear in mind that both my parents were doctors so we lived in white neighbourhoods, upper working class ones as white middle and upper class people would not sell houses to Asian immigrants in the 70s, no matter what they did for a job. We lived in Hellesdon, Norwich, in a little bungalow. None of the neighbours on the actual street spoke to us – they had, in fact, lobbied the vendors not to sell to ‘Pakis.’
So I was at Primary School, fully immersed in racism from the teachers every day and my schoolmates more sporadically. But I had a cohort of… associates? We’d play at playtimes, open-mouthedly examine hirsute caterpillars, normal kid stuff.
So, my lovely Mummy organised a party. She wanted it to be fantastic, obviously, what parent doesn’t? She gave me little invites to hand out to my friends and she bought English party snacks. She deliberately did not make Indian treats as she wanted the kids to see how ‘normal’ we were and that we didn’t stink (‘smelly Pakis’ was a big racist trope around then and another reason I’m still paranoid about how I smell).
The day of the party, my Mummy got everything ready. And we waited.
No-one turned up.
I didn’t really know how to feel, I was surprised but… maybe this was simply what parties were like? But my Mummy got upset and she started crying and clearing away the crisps and chocolates she’d put out. She’d never wanted to leave India, never wanted to be forever seen as an outsider and be forced to be four times as talented as any white person to get half as far. She’d never wanted to see her small son come home from school every day covered in bruises and confused and crying. I tried to comfort my Mummy by hugging her but I remember this made her more upset. So, I think I took my cue from her and started crying.
The next day at school, various kids I’d given invites to came up and made excuses which I found puzzling. Then one kid said, “I wanted to come cos I love parties but my Mum said I can’t play with dirty niggers.” (Yes, I’m Indian, not black but racists are nothing if not stupid.)
A girl called Catherine took me round the side of one of the buildings. She said she was my friend but not to tell anyone as her parents hated wogs. Then she gave me a hug. Later that day, she laughed and joined in when the lad who’d called me a ‘dirty nigger’ tried out ‘coon’ for a bit of variety. I didn’t realise it then but that moment set the pattern for a lot of my adult relationships.
All my fucking life, for varying reasons, people have been ashamed or embarrassed or fearful of being seen to be my friend. Sometimes because I’m fat. Sometimes because I’m uncool. A lot because of my colour. They have racistly bullied me in public then privately apologised, saying they’d know I would ‘understand.’ I have had two girlfriends who claimed to love me but I had to carry out secret relationsips with because one or both their parents were virulent, violent racists and they were ‘worried for my safety.’
I entered a third relationship like this decades ago and realised something.
I’d had enough.
The first ever White Town song was about that realisation, specifically in the lines:
Well it’s a white town with green trees
And nothing in love is free
So if it’s not worth fighting for
It’s worth nothing at all
When you realise that someone you love sees you as embarrassing, as an awkard fact to be explained away, to be minimised and hidden, that they’re ashamed to be seen in public with you… in that moment I’m that kid at the party again. I’m pulling up three streets from a girlfriend’s house so her BNP Dad won’t see me. I’m looking at Catherine and being confused because she was hugging me earlier but now she’s calling me a fucking coon. She’s not sticking up for me… at all.
My heart is broken.
I feel very lonely.